Legislator Chen Chin-teh (陳金德) of the ruling DPP will leave for Beijing today to push for the lifting of a Chinese ban on mainland crewmen working aboard Taiwanese fishing boats.
Chen's trip grabbed the attention of Taiwan's media because it will make him the first DPP member to travel to China since Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen (錢其琛) said earlier this year that DPP politicians are welcome to visit China "in an appropriate capacity."
However, Chen said yesterday that his visit has nothing to do with politics.
"I'm visiting China in a private capacity and the main purpose of my visit is to help shipowners in my constituency to resolve problems caused by the abrupt Chinese labor-export ban," Chen said.
The DPP lawmaker said he wants to keep his mainland itinerary low-profile.
Chen, elected from the northeastern county of Ilan -- one of Taiwan's major fishing industry hubs -- said he will join a 15-member delegation of the Taiwan Provincial Fishery Association (台灣省漁會), which arrived in Beijing Thursday, when they negotiate with relevant Beijing authorities for the lifting of the labor ban.
During his visit, Chen said he plans to meet with Chinese officials in charge of fishing, trade and labor affairs, as well as senior executives of the Beijing-based Fishing Labor Coordination Committee for the Two Sides of the Taiwan Strait (大陸兩岸漁工合作勞務協調委員會).
On Feb. 11, the eve of Chinese New Year, the mainland authorities abruptly banned its nationals from working on Taiwan vessels, in what has been sold as an attempt to force Taiwan shipowners to improve working and living conditions for mainland fishermen employed by Taiwan-owned boats.
As Taiwan's offshore fishing industry has become heavily dependent on mainland crew over the past decade, the ban has seriously affected Taiwan's catches and has forced many fishing vessels to suspend operations.
Both the Council of Labor Affairs and the Council of Agriculture have agreed to offer financial subsidies to encourage local shipowners to hire Taiwan fishermen to work aboard their ships, but shipowners are still finding it difficult to hire enough local crewmen to keep their vessels working. In fact, industry sources said few local people are now willing to work aboard fishing boats.